Thursday, April 30, 2020

Maverick winery has new owners

Photo: Maverick wine shop

In the week that my Okanagan Wine Tour Guide has been released, a major winery ownership change has been announced, beginning the process of making the book out of date.

Maverick Estate Winery has been acquired by Andrew Windsor (right), the former winemaker at Tinhorn Creek Estate Winery, and his partner, Jan Nelson, formerly a marketing executive at Tinhorn Creek and Black Hills Estate Winery. Their silent backers, according to industry sources, are Bob and Barb Shaunessy, the former majority owners of Tinhorn Creek until that winery was sold in 2017 to Andrew Peller Ltd.

While Tinhorn searches for a new winemaker, the cellar will be looked after by Ross Wise MW, the senior winemaker for Peller in the South Okanagan, and by Korol Kuklo, the long-time assistant winemaker at Tinhorn Creek.

Another winery expects to announce a significant winemaker hiring next week. I am not yet at liberty to disclose the details.

Several other wineries also are recruiting winemakers.  Perhaps Luke Whittall, my co-author, and I would like to see the industry frozen in amber at least for a season, to keep the book (left) up to date. Clearly, that is not happening (it never happened before either). However, there is so much detail in the 510-page book, the sixth edition of the tour guide, that it will serve for some years as the essential tour guide.

Due to the current restrictions on retail activities in wine shops, Luke and I have delayed a formal book launch until the summer. However, the $25 book can be ordered from local bookshops – who certainly need the business.

A producer of quite superb wines, Maverick opened in 2013 with
a highway-side tasting room midway between Oliver and Osoyoos. The original owners were Bertus Albertyn, (right) his father-in-law Dr. Schalk de Witt, and their families. Bertus is a South African trained winemaker who came to the Okanagan in 2009. Before opening Maverick, he was the winemaker at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. He has developed a significant business as a consultant in addition to running Maverick.

The announcement from Maverick says: “Bertus and his family plan to stay in the Oliver area and will remain engaged in the wine industry.” His wife, Elzaan, is a doctor in family practice in the South Okanagan.

Andrew Windsor, 41, an Ontario-born vintner with a master’s degree in enology from Adelaide University in Australia, joined Tinhorn Creek in 2014 after three years with the Peller winery in Ontario. Andrew initially studied environmental science at the University of Guelph but got a taste for winemaking in 2005 at The Ice House Winery at Niagara-on-the-Lake. He completed his winemaking degree at the University of Adelaide in 2006.

In 2008, he joined the winemaking staff at Mollydooker Wines, a McLaren Vale winery that started in 2005 that developed a reputation for its big red wines. He left there to join EauVivre Winery at Cawston and then, in the spring of 2011, returned to the southern hemisphere for the 2011 vintage at the huge Pernod Ricard operation in New Zealand. When that job was completed, he moved to France and spent six months, and another 2011 vintage, at Cave de Tain, a producer of Hermitage. On returning to Canada, he joined Peller in mid 2012.

Sandra Oldfield, who was Tinhorn Creek’s president when Andrew was recruited, once told me: “When he was interviewing with us, [he said] on three or four separate occasions that he really does want to make the best wine in Canada. He has targeted that this is the place where he can do that, on the Golden Mile Bench and on Black Sage Bench.”

In 2015, she also hired Jan Nelson as the sales and marketing manager for Tinhorn Creek. He had grown up in Oliver but left the Okanagan Valley in 1992 to begin over two decades of travel that took him to university in Montreal, business school in Italy to gain his MBA, a brief stint in Korea and over 17 years in Japan. 

Tinhorn Creek’s announcement at the time fleshed out his biography: “In 2001, Nelson was in Japan working in executive search when the tech bubble burst. He took some time off and completed a WSET wine course at Okanagan College. In order to break into the wine industry, Nelson joined a start-up importing Pacific Northwest (Washington & Oregon) wines in Japan. Nelson now has over ten years of experience in marketing and sales in the wine industry, and has worked with some of the leading brands from the Pacific Northwest, Napa Valley and Italy.” 

Maverick is based on a 7.5-acre vineyard that Bertus and his father-in-law planted in 2011. The varieties grown here include Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Maverick also leases three vineyards near Osoyoos that Bertus has been farming.

“I have long admired Maverick and respect the amazing brand Bertus and his team created,” Andrew Windsor said in a statement. “I am looking forward to building on the winery’s success and continuing to craft ultra-premium wines.”  

Maverick’s portfolio starts with a trio of sparkling wines, all called Ella, includes red and white table wines and concludes with two fortified wines both called Fia.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Hester Creek's Rob Summers leaves on a high note

Photo: Winemaker Robert Summers

A slight sadness came to mind while tasting these 2019 wines from Hester Creek Estate Winery: they are from the last vintage touched by Robert Summers, the long-time senior winemaker here.

The winery announced his retirement in February. “Originally from Niagara, Summers has had a long winemaking career, which first began in Ontario in 1987,” the winery said. He was, in fact, one of the senior winemakers at Peller Winery before moving West.

“He joined Hester Creek in May 2006 and was instrumental in overseeing the design and construction of Hester Creek’s sustainably built, state-of-the-art winery in 2008,” the Hester Creek announcement continued. “He has led the Hester Creek winemaking team for the past 14 years, substantially expanding the portfolio of wines in that time.”

Mark Sheridan, Hester Creek’s president, added: “Rob has been a huge part of Hester Creek’s incredible success, in growing the company from a small 6,000-case winery to the 60,000-case production today.”

Rob has been succeeded by his right-hand man, Mark Hopley, who joined Hester Creek in 2013, and by assistant winemaker Rebecca Ruggeri, who brings winemaking experience in the Southern Hemisphere and in California.

The 2019 vintage has been termed “challenging” by other vintners. Hester Creek’s description: “The 2019 grape growing season in the Oliver and Osoyoos region was one of remarkable variability, with fluctuating conditions in the winter and fall, but seeing a beautifully balanced summer.”

The fluctuating conditions no doubt refer to the vine-damaging frost of the 2018-2019 winter and then the early cold snap that killed the foliage and ended the vintage on October 9, 2019.. Even so, there was enough sun in the growing season that Hester Creek recorded 1,598 growing degree days, above the 20-year average of 1,474 days. September in particular was warmer than average but also had more rain than average.

With good vineyard practices, Hester Creek brought in quality fruit and it shows well in these wines. The wines are fresh, clean and bright with lively acidity. They are a fine tribute to Rob Summers’s distinguished career.

Here are my notes on the wines.

Hester Creek Pinot Gris 2019 ($16.99). I cannot put it any better than the winery: “a vivid bouquet of honey, apricot and honeydew melon.” The enveloping aromas bound from the glass; there are flavours pear, stone fruit and papaya. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.

Hester Creek Pinot Blanc 2019 ($15.99). Here is a very good value dry white. It has aromas of apples and flavours of apples and green melons. The finish is crisp and lingering on the palate. 90.

Hester Creek Pinot Gris Viognier 2019 ($16.99). Unique to Save-On-Foods. This is a blend of 71% Pinot Gris, 29% Viognier. The component wines were fermented separately in stainless steel; and the fermentations were long and at cool temperatures. The wine, after blending, had about two months more in tank before bottling. It begins with aromas of apricot, peach and pear. The Viognier fleshes out the palate weight and adds flavours of stone fruit to the Pinot Gris’s pear and apple notes. This utterly delicious wine is a bit of a show-off with flavours that refuse to quit. 91.

Hester Creek Old Vines Block 16 Trebbiano 2019 ($20.99). This wine begins with aromas of pineapple and citrus that are mirrored richly on the palate. There is a long finish with tropical fruit flavours persisting. 92.

Hester Creek Rosé Cabernet Franc 2019 ($17.99). This wine begins with a deep and vibrant hue, the result of giving the grapes a three-day cold soak. There are aromas of plum and crabapple, leading to mouth-filling flavours of apple, strawberry and red plum. Full-bodied for a rosé, this wine demands food. 91.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Fort Berens has a new team

Photo: Winemaker James Cambridge

The latest four releases from Lillooet’s Fort Berens Estate Winery reflect the handiwork of the new guard in the vineyard and in the winery.

In 2019, Andrew Stone, a seasoned Okanagan viticulturist, was appointed the vineyard manager at Fort Berens while James Cameron returned as the winemaker. He had been the Fort Berens winemaker in 2012 and left to work at Backyard Vineyards in the Fraser Valley in 2013. Last year, he brought his skills back to Lillooet. The difference between 2012 and 2019: Fort Berens now has a mature vineyard and a very modern winery.

James is a graduate of Niagara College, where he finished at the top of his class in the enology and viticulture program. He started his career with Henry of Pelham and the Creekside Estate Winery in Ontario. Since coming to the Okanagan, he has also made wine at Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Le Vieux Pin and LaStella wineries.

He had a good track record in his first stint at Fort Berens. The winery won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the 2012 Riesling he made. His 2012 Fort Berens Meritage won a gold medal and best of class at the 2014 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition.

Alberta-born Andrew Stone is a former systems analyst who changed careers in order to work outdoors. He has been a viticulturist previously at Meyer Family Vineyards and Liquidity Winery. As well, with his partner, Terry Meyer-Stone, he runs a boutique vineyard on Anarchist Mountain at Osoyoos.

In the notes that accompanied the samples, Fort Berens owners Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek added comments about how the new team have approached their work.

“Andrew drew up a specific plan for each block in our vineyard based on the grapes being grown for specific wines,” they wrote. “The plan called for our vineyard team to pay special attention to the blocks that were identified for the Reserve wines. Under Andrew’s leadership, our vineyard team was empowered to take on more roles and responsibilities. Some team members specialized in tractor work, others in irrigation and spraying. He implemented a new fertilization and irrigation program for better consistency, with the goal being to give the vines what they need at the right time.”

On James Cambridge, the winery said:

“James uses a minimalist approach to the winemaking process to allow the fruit to speak for itself. He wants the wine to highlight the specific qualities of each vintage. The approach that James takes to winemaking is characterized by patience. He aims to take sufficient time for each step in the winemaking process: cold soaks prior to fermentation; slow ferments for whites by keeping temperatures low; longer post-maceration for the reds after fermentation; and longer barrel aging to fully develops the wines he crafts.”

Here are notes on the current releases.

Fort Berens Pinot Gris 2019 ($18.49 for 1,119 cases). The wine was made primarily with estate-grown Pinot Gris. Whole clusters were crushed and fermented in small batches with cultured yeasts. Ten percent of the wine was aged in barrel for several months. The wine begins with aromas of pear and citrus, leading to flavours of citrus mingled with a hint of vanilla. There is good weight on the palate and the finish is dry. 91.

Fort Berens Riesling 2019 ($18.49 for 1,248 cases). The winery sourced fruit for this wine from two Okanagan vineyards and one in the Similkameen. The wine begins with aromas of honey and pineapple. On the palate, there are flavours of lime, lemon and apple. The racy acidity is well balanced with residual sugar. This is a Riesling with lots of character and with a lot of upside if aged for several years. But many consumers will want to enjoy as it is – fresh and lively. 91.

Fort Berens Rosé 2019 ($18.49 for 1,165 cases). Made with Pinot Noir, with 48 hours of skin contact, the wine presents in the glass with a delicate rose petal hue. It has aromas of strawberry and cranberry, leading to flavours of strawberry and watermelon. It has good weight and a dry finish. 90.

Fort Berens Pinot Noir 2018 ($25.99 for 781 cases). This wine is made with fruit from the estate vineyard as well as from vineyards in West Kelowna and the Similkameen Valley. The winemaker employed carbonic maceration with some of the grapes – a technique to emphasize fruitiness. The wine was aged nine months in French oak. The wine begins with aromas of strawberries and cherries which are echoed on the palate. The silken texture of the wine adds to its elegance. 90.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Sperling's Natural Amber and friends

Photo: winemaker Ann Sperling

If natural orange wines gain traction with consumers, some of the credit is due to Ann Sperling, one of the proprietors and the senior winemaker at Kelowna’s Sperling Vineyards.

The winery’s latest releases include what Sperling chooses to call “Natural Amber.” It is a perfectly good synonym for orange wine and perhaps even a better description of the colour of the wine.

Making this edgy wine involved taking a few risks. With more than 30 years experience making wine, Ann long ago lost any reluctance to push the limits. Sperling wines are always interesting.

The grape chosen for this wine was Pinot Gris, a variety often favoured for orange wine because there is a little colour in the skins of mature fruit. It is also the most widely planted white grape in British Columbia. There is plenty of fruit available if the winemaker wants to explore styles beyond the conventional crisp white wine we are all familiar with.

To make the Amber wine, Sperling fermented whole clusters – stems and all – with wild yeast. The wine also completed malolactic fermentation naturally, fermenting to complete dryness.

“And then,” the winery adds in its technical notes, “what if you press and settle rather than fine or filter – and leave the natural structural elements of the grape intact, and not ameliorate with additives such as sulphites?”

This leads to a somewhat philosophical riff on the wine.

“The result is a whole expression of Pinot Gris vines that have adapted themselves over 20 years to our site. It is not an expression of the vessel, but a savory expression of the complete grape. It may be an umami expression through the grape, but there is no denying this wine loves food.”

Orange wines are not everyone’s cup of tea (in fact, the flavours usually remind me a bit of steeped tea) but you will never know if you don’t try a glass or two. Sperling Natural Amber is a good place to start.

Here are notes on that wine and other current releases. Note the use of the term, organic. The vineyard has been certified organic since 2017.

Sperling Organic Market White 2018 ($19 for 768 cases). This is a blend of 45% Bacchus, 45% Pinot Blanc and 10% Riesling. Some of the previous vintages of this showed residual sweetness. This is nicely balanced to dryness. There are aromas and flavours of apple, melon and spice. 90.

Sperling Organic Pinot Gris 2018 ($21 for 768 cases). The wine begins with appealing fruity aromas of pear and stone fruit with an intriguing hint of anise. All that is echoed on the palate. The finish is crisp and fresh. 90.

Sperling Organic Natural Amber 2018 ($30 for 350 cases). This is an unfiltered wine. Left deliberately a little hazy. Orange in hue, the wine has aromas and flavours of orange rind, with a hit of spicy orange on the palate. On the savoury finish, there is the note of tobacco often found in orange wines. 90.

Sperling Organic Vision Chardonnay 2017 ($32 for 380 cases). This is an elegant wine, beginning with aromas of citrus with a touch of butter, which is mirrored on the palate. The wine was fermented with indigenous yeast in 500-litre puncheons. Selected barrels were blended and aged on the lees for 10 to 12 months. The oak flavours are barely perceptible, with the subtle fruit flavours left to be the star. 91.

Sperling Old Vines Foch Reserve 2017 ($32 for 322 cases). Blessed with vines planted in the 1960s, Sperling has chosen to championing one of the few hybrid varieties that survived the 1988 pullout. The wine has aromas and flavours of dark fruits mingled with toasty notes. The rustic character of this dry red is a good reflection of Maréchal Foch. 90.

Sperling Organic Pinot Noir 2017 ($35 for 364 cases). This is a fresh, lively Pinot Noir, with aromas and flavours of cherry and strawberry. Light in body, it has a touch of spice on the finish. 89.

Friday, April 10, 2020

SpearHead releases trio of 2019s

 Photo: SpearHead's Grant Stanley

The recent releases from East Kelowna’s SpearHead Winery provide an early glimpse of the 2019 vintage, at least in the North Okanagan.

The verdict: looking good for what was not an easy year for growing grapes. Of course, this may be a skewed example: Grant Stanley, the general manager and winemaker, is superbly experienced and has a good team working with him.

At last year’s National Wine Awards, SpearHead earned a seventh ranking among the top 10 small wineries and a sixteenth ranking among the top 25 wineries in Canada. Good wine is to be expected from SpearHead.

Two of these wines are made with Pinot Noir. Grant once remarked, when he was the winemaker at Quails’ Gate, that he thought about Pinot Noir “80% of the time.”

SpearHead, which is a winery he joined several years ago, specializes in Pinot Noir (and does a good job with Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay). Some 80% of the winery’s 15 acres is planted with Pinot Noir. SpearHead also contracts more Pinot Noir elsewhere in West Kelowna and in Summerland.

This is one of the few wineries making a white Pinot Noir and it was Grant’s idea. He had to deal with grapes from young Pinot Noir vines that, because of the youth of the vines, did not make the cut for SpearHead’s regular Pinot Noirs. Those grapes, however, are excellent for making delicious, fruity whites.

If memory serves, 2019 is SpearHead’s second vintage of white Pinot Noir. There is now a following for the wine.

Here are notes on the three releases.

SpearHead Riesling 2019 ($21 for 579 cases). This is a delicious wine but consider laying it down until we are done with self-isolation. The aromas and the flavours are still restrained but the upside is considerable. It has aromas and flavours of lemon and lime with a hint of minerality and the promise of developing light notes of petrol. 90.

SpearHead White Pinot Noir 2019 ($25 for 437 cases). The pale hue of the wine is misleading. There is good weight and lots of flavour. It begins with aromas of apple and honeydew leading to flavours of peach and melon. A quarter of a bottle overlooked for several days in the refrigerator was even fuller in texture and flavour, suggesting this is also a wine with which to celebrate the end of self-isolation. 90.

SpearHead Pinot Noir Rosé 2019 ($22 for 553 cases). The appeal of this wine begins with the vibrant hue in the glass (in my view, the ideal rosé colour, achieved with a 48-hour cold soak on the skins). The wine begins with aromas of strawberry and raspberry, followed by flavours of strawberry and cranberry. The finish is dry. 90.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Merridale also makes hand sanitizers

Photo: Merridale's hand sanitizer (courtesy of Merridale)

The following heart-warming story was emailed this week to the customers of Merridale Cidery and Distillery, the pioneering producer of apple cider on Vancouver Island.

Shortly after founder Albert Piggott opened the cidery in 1992, it was acquired by Rick Pipes, a former Victoria lawyer, and his partner, Janet Docherty.

A couple with energy, imagination and considerable business acumen, they have turned Merridale into a major success.

Rick was among the earliest applicants for a distillery license and had a hand in helping the government structure regulations that made commercial sense. There are craft distillers all over British Columbia who might never have opened but for the work of Rick Pipes and a handful of other early distillers.

The following email from Merridale recites a tale reflecting how many British Columbia
companies are going the extra mile in the battle to control COVID-19.

It takes a village, or two, to make hand sanitizer

Over the last few weeks, a call went out to the craft distillers to make hand sanitizers for first responders and others.  Merridale and many from the BC Craft Distillers Guild have jumped into action to figure out how to do this. Most of us have never made a product like this before, but Guild Members worked together closely sharing information and recipes, which has been incredibly inspiring.

At Merridale Distillery, our first call for help came from one of our growers, Dr. Robert Anderson. Hand sanitizer was desperately needed for Home Care Workers to take with them on their home visits. These workers are out on the front lines of the pandemic and needed something portable.

Because we pick our fruit in the fall, ferment it into cider, and then distill the cider into spirits in our small still, we didn’t have the neutral spirits available to make it. Luckily, our good friends at Averill Creek, Wendy and Andy Johnston had grain alcohol they could spare.

We then reached out to Gifty at Shea Butter Market, a long-time collaborator who has been making our hand creams, cider soaps and lip balms for years. Understanding how often the hand sanitizer would be used, we wanted to create something that wouldn’t dry or irritate the skin.

Gifty brought her skin care expertise to the table, along with her Baraka Shea Butter, which is hand-made by women and families from the village of Kperisi in Northern Ghana. She helped us work on a formulation that added in a little Shea Butter and Coconut oil, so that it would smell great and feel good.

The second key ingredient in hand sanitizer after the alcohol is aloe gel. As the supply chain slowed down, there was no aloe to be found anywhere. We searched. Gifty searched. And, finally we located some at Voyageur in Surrey. When they learned that the aloe was for hand sanitizer for Home Care Workers, they jumped into action helping to ensure that our order was ready before the end of the day on Friday.

Understandably, couriers are extremely busy right now and we couldn’t find a way to get our newly acquired Aloe Gel to the Island. So, in jumped Karen, a Vancouver-based member of our family. She picked up the aloe, packed it up and headed to the ferry terminal. Rick, our owner, in the meantime had hopped on the ferry as a walk-on. They did a quick pass-off at Tsawwassen and Rick rode the ferry back to the Island with a suitcase of Aloe Gel in tow.

With the last ingredient finally in hand, Gifty’s team sprang into action, quickly getting an assembly line in place. The hand sanitizer was made, packaged and labeled in less than 24 hours. The following afternoon, we dropped off the packaged hand sanitizer for our nurses in the Duncan hospital.

We would like to extend a huge thank you to Shea Butter Market, Averill Creek, Voyageur Soap & Candle, Karen Symmes, and of course, our local health care workers and Dr. Anderson for reaching out! Seeing a community pull together on a project like this is heartwarming. It’s the good part of the bad that is happening right now.

As we move forward with further production, most of our product will be given away to first responders, but we will have a limited amount for our customers.  We have stayed open in the eatery supplying take away foods for your freezer and pantries.  Our cider and spirits shelves are also stocked.  To customers coming into the Farmhouse for take-away foods, cider, or spirits, we are making one bottle of sanitizer available per person at our cost of $5. Please support local during these trying times, whether it be here or another business close to your home.  We want businesses to survive and be there when this passes.  Stay Safe.  Stay Positive.  Stay supportive.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Blue Mountain, fingers crossed, schedules harvest dinner

Photo: Blue Mountain's scenic vineyard

Shortly after releasing these two wines, Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars also announced its harvest dinner is scheduled for August 29.

At $145 a person, the dinner is already sold out.With such uncertain times it is hard to know how our guests are going to feel about travelling in August,” the winery’s Christie Mavety said recently. “Hopefully there will be some form of normalcy by then.

This reflects the uncertainty overhanging wine touring this year in British Columbia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the tasting rooms have all been ordered to close -  not that many had remained open. Wineries still are allowed to sell wine at the farm gate as long as efforts are made to keep a social distance between visitors and winery personnel.

On its website, Blue Mountain says its tasting room remains closed until May 11; and that decision will be evaluated, depending on the success (or not) of reining in COVUS-19. Personally, I would be astonished if public tastings resumed that soon.

It is not necessary to go to wineries to buy wine. Virtually every winery offers free shipping at least to April 30 orders of four or six or 12 bottles. Blue Mountain is selling six-bottle minimums, which is fairly typical.

Here are notes on two recent releases you might consider.

Blue Mountain Chardonnay 2018 ($28).  This elegant wine was aged 13 months in oak of assorted ages and sizes. Only a third want through malolactic fermentation. As a result, the wine remains bright and vibrant, with complexity on the flavours. On the nose and the palate, there is citrus, apple and peach. 91.

Blue Mountain Gamay Noir 2018 ($30). This wine was aged 12 months in relatively neutral oak. The aroma is lightly toasty with cherry notes. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, blackberry and spice mingled with hints of toast. The wine has good weight. 90.